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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
The fourth son of Jacob and Leah; born in Padan-aram (Genesis 29:35). It is he who suggests the sale of Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders. He becomes surety for Benjamin, and prevails upon his father to let him go down to Egypt according to the request of Joseph, after Reuben has failed (ib. 43:3-14). In subsequent interviews with Joseph, Judah takes a leading part among the brethren (e.g., "Judah and his brethren," ib. 44:14), and makes a most touching and persuasive plea for the release of Benjamin (ib. 44:16-34). In Jacob's blessing (ib. ) he seems to be exalted to the position of chief of the brethren, owing apparently to the misconduct of Reuben and the treacherous violence of Simeon and Levi (see ib. , 35:22; comp. ib. 49:4,5-7), who thereby forfeit the birthright. Success in war, booty (under the figure of the lion's prey), the hegemony, at least for a time, among the clans of Israel, and residence in a rich vine-growing and pastoral country are promised to his descendants (ib. 49:8-12).
According to Genesis 38, he married the daughter of the Canaanite Shuah, by whom he had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er married Tamar,but died childless. According to custom his widow was given in marriage to his brother Onan, who was slain for misconduct; and she was then promised to the third son, Shelah. This promise not having been fulfilled, she resorted to stratagem, and became by Judah the mother of Pharez and Zarah. Pharez was ancestor of the royal house of David (Ruth 4:12,18-22; 1 Chronicles 2:3-16).
—In Rabbinical Literature:
Judah was born on the fifteenth day of the third month (Siwan), in the year of the Creation 2195, and died, at the age of 119, eighteen years before Levi (Book of Jubilees, 28:15, for the date of birth only; Seder 'Olam Zuṭa; Midr. Tadshe, in Epstein, "Mi-Ḳadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim," Supplement, p.; "Seder ha-Dorot," 1:47; comp. Test. Patr., Judah, 12). In the "Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Shemot," p. 104b (Leghorn, 1870), however, it is said that Judah died at the age of 129, eighty-six years after he went to Egypt.
Judah's name is interpreted as a combination of "Yhwh" (given as a reward for his public confession, Genesis 38:26) with the letter "dalet," the numerical value of which is 4, Judah being the fourth son of Jacob (Soṭah 10b; Yalḳ., Gen. 159). With reference to 1 Chronicles 5:2, Judah is represented by the Rabbis as chief over his brothers, who obeyed him and who did nothing without his approval; he is styled "the king" (Gen. R. 84:16; Test. Patr., Judah, 1). He is therefore held responsible by the Rabbis for the deception that his brothers practised upon their father by sending to him Joseph's coat dipped in the blood of a kid (Genesis 37:31-32). Judah was punished for it in a similar manner, Tamar sending to him his pledge, saying, "Discern, I pray thee, whose are these" (ib. 38:25; Gen. R. 84:19, 85:12). The death of his wife and his two sons (Genesis 38:7-12) is also considered by Tanḥuma (Tan., Wayiggash, 10) as a divine retribution for the suffering which he caused his father by selling Joseph. According to Gen. R. 95:1 and Tan., c., Jacob suspected Judah of having killed Joseph; Tanḥuma even adds that it was Judah himself who brought Joseph's coat to Jacob. Judah's attempt to rescue Joseph (Genesis 37:26) is considered insufficient; for, as he was the chief, he should have brought Joseph on his shoulders to his father (Gen. R. 85:4). His brothers, on seeing their father's grief, deposed Judah and excommunicated him, saying: "If he, our chief, had ordered us to bring Joseph home, we would have done so" (Ex. R. 42:2; Tan., Wayesheb, 12). Judah atoned for that fault by confessing that it was he who had given Tamar the pledge; and he was rewarded for that confession by a share in the future world (Soṭah 7b). "Bat Shua'" (Genesis 38:12), according to Jubilees, 34:20, was the name of Judah's wife, while in "Sefer ha-Yashar" (section "Wayesheb") her name is given as "'Illit." Judah was the first to institute the levirate marriage (Gen. R. 85:6).
Judah as Hero.
Judah is furthermore represented as a man of extraordinary physical strength. When he shouted his voice was heard at a distance of 400 parasangs; when he became angry the hair of his chest became so stiff that it pierced his clothes; and when he took into his mouth lumps of iron he reduced them to dust (Gen. R. 93:6). According to others, blood flowed from his two bucklers (ib. 93:7). He was a prominent figure in the wars between the Canaanites and his father's family after the latter had destroyed Shechem. These wars are alluded to by pseudo-Jonathan (on Genesis 48:22) and in Midr. Wayissa'u (Jellinek, "B. H." 3:1-5), and are described at great length in "Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Wayishlaḥ" (see also Jubilees, 34:1-9; Test. Patr., Judah, 3-7). Judah's first remarkable exploit was the killing of Jashub, King of Tappuah. The latter, clad in iron armor, came riding on a horse and shooting arrows with both hands. While still at a distance of thirty cubits (according to Midr. Wayissa'u, 177⅓ cubits) from him, Judah threw at Jashub a stone weighing sixty shekels, unhorsing him. Then in a hand-to-hand fight Judah killed his adversary. While he was stripping the armor from the body, he was assailed by nine of Jashub's companions, of whom he killed one and put to flight the rest. Of Jashub's army he killed 1,000 men (comp. Test. Patr., c.), or, according to "Sefer ha-Yashar" (c.), forty-two men. Great exploits were performed by him at Hazar and Gaash, where he was the first to jump upon the wall and create havoc among the enemy. Midr. Wayissa'u describes also the battle between the children of Jacob and those of Esau, in which the chief part was taken by Judah. When Judah interfered in behalf of Benjamin (Genesis 44:18-34), he at first had a heated discussion with Joseph, which is given at great length in the "Sefer ha-Yashar" (section "Wayiggash," agreeing in many points with Gen. R. 93:7). The following incidents may be mentioned: When Joseph retained Benjamin, Judah shouted so loudly that Hushim, the son of Dan, who was in Canaan at a distance of 400 parasangs from him, heard his voice. Hushim came immediately to Egypt, and with Judah desired to destroy the land. In the "Sefer ha-Yashar" it is stated that Judah lifted a stone weighing 400 shekels, threw it into the air, and finally ground it to dust with his foot. He then told Naphtali to count the districts of Egypt, and when the latter reported that there were twelve of them, he said to his brothers: "I take three for myself and let each one of you take one, and we shall destroy the whole of Egypt." It was this decision that induced Joseph to disclose himself to his brothers.
Because Judah had pledged himself to bring Benjamin back to his father, saying, "If I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever" (Genesis 43:9), his bones were rolled about without rest in the coffin during the forty years that the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness. Moses then prayed to God, arguing that Judah's confession had induced Reuben to confess his sin with Bilhah (Soṭah 7b; B. Ḳ. 92a; Mak. 11b). Judah's name was engraved on the emerald in the high priest's breastplate (Num. R. 2:6).
Preeminence of the Tribe.
The tribe of Judah had the preeminence over the other tribes in that Elisheba, the mother of all the priests; Othniel, the first judge; Bezaleel, thebuilder of the Tabernacle; and Solomon, the builder of the First Temple; and all the pious kings were of the tribe of Judah, as will be the Messiah (Yalḳ., Gen. 159). This distinction was given to the tribe of Judah as a reward for its zeal in glorifying God at the passage of the Red Sea. When the children of Israel were about to cross, a dispute arose among the tribes, each desiring to be the first to enter the water. The tribe of Benjamin sprang in first, for which act the princes of Judah threw stones at it (Soṭah 37a). In Ex. R. 24:1 it is stated, on the contrary, that the other tribes refused to enter the slimy bed of the sea until the tribe of Judah set them the example by plunging in. According to R. Judah, the Temple was erected on Judah's land—another reward to the tribe (Gen. R. 99:1); but a different opinion is that only the whole eastern side of the edifice, including the courtyards and the altar, was on Judah's ground, while the Temple proper was on land belonging to Benjamin (Yoma 12a; Zeb. 53b). The people of Judah are said to have been versed in the Law ("bene Torah"), because in the wilderness the tribe was placed on the east side of the camp (Numbers 2:3), being thus near to Moses and Aaron (Num. R. 18:4). It seems that the soil of Judah's territory was remarkable for the excellent quality of its grain, one measure of Judean grain being worth five measures of that produced in Galilee (B. B. 122a).
The reason given for the transportation into captivity of the tribe of Judah is that it was a punishment for intemperance (Gen. R. 36:7).
It is very generally maintained by recent criticism that Judah is simply the eponymous ancestor of the tribe of that name, and that the narrative in Genesis gives the history of the tribe in the form of personal history (see JUDAH, TRIBE OF). It is worthy of note, however, that the thirty-eighth chapter of Genesis, which is held to give an account of the various clans which united to form the tribe, under the figure of the marriages, etc., of Judah and his sons, makes no mention of the Kenites and the Kenizzites (comp. Judges 1:12-15,16). It is hardly a sufficient answer to say that the Caleb or Kenizzite clan was distinct until the time of David (see 1 Samuel 25:3, 30:14); for, according to the commonly received view, Genesis 38 belongs to J and was not written earlier than the ninth century B.C., by which time, in any case, these clans must have been incorporated with Judah.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Judah (3)'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/j/judah-3.html. 1901.